On a personal level the American people just seem to like the Democratic party better than the Republican party. Not only does the Democratic party have better favorable numbers than the Republican party; but according to Pew Research register voters also see Democrats as the more ethical party, the party more willing to work across the aisle to get things done, and the party most concerned about regular people.
Yet Democrats are about to suffer a significant defeat this year because the public thinks they are incompetent. Republicans are seen able to do a better job on almost all the major issues and are viewed as more capable of running the federal government. By far, the biggest issue with voters this election is the economy. On that issue, Republicans have a six-point advantage among registered over the Democrats.
This is a sign that at a fundamental level the election is about the President, even when he is not directly part of the race. The impression that Democratic party is less capable at managing the federal government comes primarily from voters watching how President Obama has managed the government. Similarly, on issues like immigration or dealing with foreign terrorist organizations Obama has created a big executive void and the Democratic party as a whole is being judge based on how these executive actions from Obama have worked out.
I consider this to once again be a vindication of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) political strategy. Blanket obstructionism did make the Republican party look bad, appear uncaring, and got them labeled uncooperative. It also, though, made the President look incompetent as he failed to achieve some of his legislative goals and forcing him to rely on complicated executive actions to get around the lack of simple legislative fixes. On net it seems it was politically worth it.
In The Prince, Machiavelli advised it is safer to be feared than loved. In American politics it seems it is better to be seen as competent than liked.